This paper is part of an inquiry into the nature of presence in the imaginal world, which I am describing as spiritual presence. There are three main realms of reality recorded in human history: The world of the senses, the world of the imaginal and the world of the (Divine) Intelligence.i These realities are experienced in our different bodied; our physical body in the material world, the world of the senses; the subtle (or astral) body in the imaginal realm; and the causal body in the world of the Divine Intelligence.
Many mystics and seers agree that it is the imaginal world that bridges the sensing world to the Divine Intelligence, sometimes referred to as the Divine Ground. The imaginal world is the place where the visionary finds herself in the presence of the supernatural that reveals Itself ii.
This is the place of soul-development and divine alchemy. Our part in this creative process is to be receptive to these deeper layers of consciousness that is the imaginal realm: to find ways of cultivating the skill of `thinning’ the perceptual layers that divide the imaginal from our normal ways of existing, and divine from the imaginal world to Divine Intelligence. The reason for doing this is based on the assertion that human beings long for union with Divine Creationiii, of which we are a part, and this can only happen through the deeper connection of the imaginal to the Divine.
In this paper I want to link the deeper connections within the imaginal world with the concept of presence. Presence is a manifestation of spirit-in-action with the individual’s ability to move between worlds, the physical and the imaginal. This movement allows us to work wholeheartedly with our mind (psyche), body and soul in the most complete way.
Spiritual presence is a quality and property of the spiritual universe. This form of consciousness can only be experienced if we move through the personal self to the spiritual self that is part of the Divine Ground.
There is no doubt that as human beings we are capable of moving between the physical (material) universe and the spiritual universe – that is, moving between the visible and invisible worlds iv
The capacity of the soul to inhabit both these domains is part of the physiology (or dynamic functioning) of the soul and is an essential part of our spiritual nature.
How to access our spiritual universe through the imaginal world
Imagine yourself moving into a world where there is no time and no gravity as we know it, but movement that is free flowing and energetic. Gebser v links this to time-space freedom, experienced in integral consciousness. Allow yourself to experience moving into this spiritual universe. The land of No-where, meaning it is in no one place, a place that is not of our physical senses. To move into this world you need to enter by passing into the interior of your physical being, and in passing through the interior, paradoxically, finding yourself on the outside. The reality is that the natural (material) world is contained within, enveloped by the spiritual world.
The soul and the personality need to work in harmony for this deeper connection to be made. So an open receptivity is the most significant vehicle for this migration from one world to the other. While we are incarnated we do not fully move into other realms, but can live between worlds, that is, with one foot in each world, so to speak.vi
Exercise: Move into deep relaxation, moving the breath into the lower abdomen (Hara) and beyond. Each in-breath is a gift from the Divine Presence and each out-breath is our spiritualising our material universe. We are the transformers that materialise the spiritual and spiritualise the material universes.
Deeply relaxed, allow your subtle body to move out from you and sit in front of you, looking at you. Having acknowledged your energetic self, allow it to lead you into the imagine world as it opens to receive you. Allow yourself to be led into the vast space and be taken wherever your energetic body wishes. Physically lean into the images you see and go on a journey of deep consciousness that is transmuted from everyday reality to the psychocosmic universe.
Take your time on this journey, experience it fully, colours, movements, energies, vibrations and light. Allow yourself to go with this as long as you can.
The exercise is to encourage you to have visionary experiences and to bring them into everyday reality.
The imaginal world exists in its own right, and we are part of it (mostly) without cognitive awareness. Because of this cognitive amnesia we need to intentionally ask to be received into this world for it to open to us.
Two of the great philosophers, Plato and Aristotle stated that every soul is non-corporeal and therefore can separate from the body; and does so when the body dies. The soul can be understood as the essence of the Self that is not the personality but is interdependent with it for the purpose of the soul’s development, while we are part of the world of the senses. Different spiritual traditions have their own religious cosmology and theology, that is, their own set of beliefs about the origin of humankind and their relationship with the Creator. A common cosmology shared among some Western and Eastern religions includes a hierarchy of Divinity starting with the highest level of Being, the eternal wellspring of all existence and is terms the One or God. Often referred to as consciousness without an object vii The outpouring from this eternal wellspring creates many other levels of essence. The first immediately below the One or God is the Intellect or spirit called, the Divine Mind (nous) (not to be confused with human intelligence, but is rather the essence of Being), it is a level of eternal being in which consciousness is completely at one with its object. This level in turn makes possible a multiplicity of living forms called souls. The soul, as a living form is related at one end with the absolute, and at the other to the sensory world, including the human body. The human being in its essential nature is a soul, and as such can, in its highest octave, (vibrations) directly experience the absolute One or God from which it is derived and with which it is still fundamentally identified. In its lower Octave (vibrations) the soul can become involved with the passions and desires of matter, losing itself in them as is humankind’s plight viii .
Soul has its substance in the human being ix, that is, it is ontologically real just as the physical (material) world is real. The idea that the soul bridges pure spirit (Pure Intellect) and the material world demonstrates the need for the soul to develop or evolve to higher octaves to more clearly reflect and refract the Divine Essence in our own nature.x
The Imaginal world
It needs to be stated at the outset that there is a basic belief that the universe is ontologically whole. If the universe is ontologically whole, then all parts of it are ontologically whole. There are no separate realities as such; the separation between the material world, the world of the Intellect and the imaginal world belongs to a flawed conceptual framework. This is part of the legacy of the Enlightenment and the development of the mental-rational consciousness xi. It is part of the modern human need to break up wholes for analysis and understanding, our need to feel in control of our world that forces us to split our realities, it is not in the nature of the universe to do this.
Ontologically, we can describe three worlds: the world of the senses (the physical world), the world of the soul (the imaginal world) and the world of Pure Intelligence (The Ground of Being). Each of these three worlds has its own organ of perception and its own laws and independent principlexii,xiii; the senses, the imagination, and the Intellect, corresponding to the triad: body, soul and mind. This is not the same as the human body and mind, rather each of these entities has its own perceptual fields and knowledge, so the body includes its cognitive functions; the soul has its own imaginative consciousness, and cognitive imagination (but not phantasy which belongs to the person’s cognitive function); and The Ground of Being is Pure Intelligence. The place and function of the imaginal world can be summed up thus:
“In this way we are not confined to dilemma of thought and extension, to the schema of a cosmology and a gnoseology restricted to the empirical world and the world of the abstract Intellect. Between them there is a world that is both intermediary and intermediate, the world of the image, the mundus imaginalis: a world that is ontologically as real as the world of the senses and that of the Intellect. This world requires its own faculty of perception, namely imaginative power, a faculty with a cognitive function, a noetic value which is as real as that of sense perception or intellectual intuition. We must be careful not to confuse it with the imagination identified by so-called modern man with “fantasy”, and which according to him, is nothing but an outpouring of “imaginings”.xiv
In the English language, imaginary means unreal, fantasy. This is not how it is meant when describing the imaginal world, where it is real. When we pass between different ontological realities, we cross a boundary from the sensible world where location resides, and it is possible to ask the question “where” to another state where such a question makes no sense. From a Sufi description of the imaginal:
“It becomes obvious that once the border has been crossed, the question “where” becomes meaningless at least in terms of the meaning it has in the realm of sensible experience. We are in a space out of space; hence it makes possible to give an answer to the question “where” by a gesture of the hand. Essentially the relationship involved is that of the outer, the visible, the exoteric, to the inner, the invisible, the esoteric, or the relationship of the natural to the spiritual world. Leaving the where, is equivalent to leaving the outer or natural appearances that cloak the hidden inner realities, just as the almond is concealed in its shell. For the Gnostic, this represents a return home or at least a striving in that direction” xv.
This is saying that the imaginal world is found outside the time-space of our material universe. It has its own topography. When Corbin speaks of the imaginal world as ontologically real in its own right, he is asserting that there is a very precise order of reality, which corresponds to a precise mode of perceptionxvi meaning that in the imaginal world we are in a space out of space. We are neither in our usual psyche nor in the world of physical space. Corbin describes the phenomenon of internalisation, that is, moving through the material world to the spiritual as moving through external reality, to find spiritual reality envelops, surrounds, contains so-called material reality. In this sense spiritual reality is nowhere as the question of where’ belongs to the material world, which is encapsulated in spiritual reality. It is essential to understand this if one is to understand the topography of visionary experiences.xvii
We need to get over what is termed Western man’s agnostic reflex since it is responsible for the divorce between thinking and being. We need to go beyond the physical world and the scientism of modern thinking, where if reality is not known to the five senses, it does not exist. In the imaginal world creation and creative elements reveal themselves to us. This place has been called the universal ground where divining, imagining, comprising a dynamic field of imaginals, cosmic powers or agents, are to be found, which uphold creation and which human imagination at a deep level refracts in generating percepts of its world.xviii Many mystics and seers would say that it is the imaginal world that bridges the sensing and the Intellectual worlds, and that this bridging’ is a reality that also moves us from the terrestrial world into the spiritual or Divine Ground. This is the place where the visionary finds himself in the presence of the supernatural that reveals Itself. This is the place of soul-development and divine alchemy.xix This place that is No-where relates to an entire area of the soul, to an entire spiritual culture that has no meaning in the realm of sensible experience.
Corbin offers a teaching from Suhrawardî to illustrate the movement through different realities and in relation to the work of the soul being to bath in the Spring of Life:
“He who has discovered the meaning of True Reality has arrived at this Spring. When he emerges from the Spring, he is endowed with a Gift that likens him to the balsam of which a drop, distilled in the hollow of one’s hand, held up against the sun, trans-passes to the back of the hand. If you are Khezr, you, too, can pass beyond Mount Qâf without difficulty (meaning you too, can pass beyond the terrestrial world and beyond the cosmic mountain into the world of pure archangelic Intelligences)”.xx
The imaginal world is considered the intermediary world. Imagination is the cognitive function of this world. Ontologically, it ranks higher than the world of the senses and lower than the Purely Intelligible world [of pure archangelic Intelligences – not human intelligence]. The contents of this intermediary world are archetypal images of individual and singular things,
Our part in this creative process is to be receptive to these deeper levels of the imaginal: to find ways of cultivating the skill of `thinning’ the perceptual layers that divide the imaginal from the propositional layers of percept and knowing. The reason for doing this is based on the assertion that the work of the imaginal realm is to spiritualise the material and materialise the spiritual.
To understand spiritual presence one must understand the relationship between the soul’s journey in the imaginal world and its connection with Divine Presence. There are many theories and spiritual traditions that will explain this relationship, but I will start by offering a non-religious metaphysical description. Heron, a humanistic philosopher and author writing on the nature of presence states:
“These three things – commitment of soul, charisma and bearing – all go together to make up presence. The result is a transfiguration of human expression in this world by potency in another world. It is as if the person is living, breathing, being and moving in two worlds at once; is in conscious command of their expression in physical space and in ka space at the same time. Hence the sense of a visitor, an entrant from the other world into this.” xxi
This view of presence is based on the notion that as individuals we are capable of mediating various types of energy/presence from another dimension (e.g. for this paper I will call it the imaginal world, others may call it the spiritual or cosmic dimension – they may not mean the same thing) and simultaneously manifesting these energies in the emerging present. The cultivation of potent and intentional presence can be achieved over some years of self-development.
The Dzogchen view of transformation is the principle of direct integration of the manifestations of energy with the state of presence. “In the state of presence, whatever arises liberates itself automatically,xxii meaning that arising thoughts and emotional energy are themselves just an expression of the non-dual awareness-energy that is the ground of our being. Mahamudra /Dzogchen practice can lead to transmutation, self-liberation – meaning spontaneous presence. This non-dual awareness is your very own awareness and is called freedom from everything.xxiii There is something about the un-divided self that operates in presence, “consciousness-without-an-object” xxiv. Presence therefore is not a cognitive reflective state. Reflection is reflection on self and an important part of personal development. Self is divided to reflect on self into an object of reflection and an observing subject. This is self consciousness which is divided consciousness and has no place in presence. “This is not saying that we should go back to prereflective identification, but that we go beyond reflection to become at-one-with our experience, through overcoming all struggles with it, through discovering and in the deep silent source from which all experience arises.”xxv This state is postreflective in that it usually follows from a groundwork of reflective work –and trans-reflective– in
that it discloses a way of being that lies beyond divided consciousness. What finally replaces divided consciousness is pure presence. The term Higher reflection is used by some phenomenologists xxvi to try to describe this non-dual awareness, but they do not go far enough.
Presence is direct unmediated knowing, undivided consciousness, self-illuminating awareness, (More correcting – self-illuminating awaring xxvii, self-existing wisdom. When attention is turned outwards, perception is clear and sharp, since it is not clothed in concepts.
“In this unified field of presence, neither perception nor awareness can be objectified as anything for the mind to grasp. This ungraspable quality of experience is the basic meaning of the Buddhist term emptiness. The Buddhist tradition speaks about the inseparability of emptiness and awareness; emptiness and clarity; emptiness and appearance; emptiness and energy and we could say emptiness and being.” xxviii
Emptiness is also a spiritual state encouraged by Christian mystics xxix and means to suspend a need to know in the usual sense of acquiring propositional knowledge. Another aspect of presence is “being without agenda” giving a sense of stillness, acceptance and aliveness. Pure presence is the realisation of being-as emptiness; being without being something. Being is empty so that when it enters the imaginal world it reflects the clarity of the knowledge and energy there, without encumbrance with personality agenda.
Training in unconditional presence involves the following: 1. a willingness to inquire, to face directly into the felt experience and see what is there. It is true Diaphany xxx – seeing all within their own source rather than our projections. Then to acknowledge what is happening inside us: acknowledging implies recognizing and naming what is happening inside us, then allowing it to be there as it is, opening to the experience – using all sensory faculties to sense more fully. A complete opening up to, entering, and becoming one with, the felt experience, without any attempt to find meaning in it, or to do anything with it or about it.
Psychosynthesis, a model of self-development developed by Assagiolixxxi also offers a framework which enables people to evoke presence in this manner. He suggests that, besides our various sub-personalities which are present in varying degrees at different times, we can also evoke the presence of the higher “Self” or spiritual centre. He suggests that the person who is connected to the higher “Self” will be more energised and wholesome than a person who is only in touch with the little or cognitively conscious self. He also suggests there are certain qualities which can be mediated and manifested through being in touch with the higher Self, such as the essence or source of our being.
Spiritual presence enables the individual to engage in transformational change for themselves and to facilitate the same in others. Developing presence is a disciplined practice. It involves intentional awaring to be in the Light, to consciously evoke the Light or the Darkness beyond the Light to act through us, thereby fulfilling the purpose of the personality which is to be of service to the soul and Divine Purpose. This disciple requires a lack of self consciousness, a lack of anxiety, to be emotionally competent, and requires a grounded sense of purpose; to be of service to other sentient beings and nature.
Heron (1987) highlights this point.
“The enemy of presence is anxiety. Actors often have a lot of fear before going onto the stage. It usually goes once they are out front, with the secure content of rehearsed lines which they can fill with presence. But extempore speech in everyday life may often generate a lot of subtle anxiety.”
The psychological literature is keen to couple presence with high self-esteem; however such a coupling keeps presence as a quality of the personality as it is the personality that needs self-esteem, that is, ego inflation. Spiritual presence does not require such esteem, in fact self-esteem is the antithesis of spiritual presence.
Moving into the imaginal world means that we (in our essence, not our ego) can part-take of its creation – the great range and sweep of cosmic consciousness; “the living power and prime agent of all human perception – a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinitive I AM”.xxxii
If we were to juxtapose this `other lived world’ onto the injunction from mystical traditions “to see things differently”; to see differently the eternal and temporal dimensions, to see them from the point of view of eternity as opposed to the temporal, then we will see as God sees. As nothing changes in the Godhead, in eternity, it is only our seeing of it that changes.
Finally presence is “Self Remembering – paying attention to both inner and outer environments.” Really it means the sensation of remembering self as Essence. What is real in the person is present. That is presence. “I am present” is the conscious experience of “I exist”. It is the awaring of a living presence existing, being. Gurdjieff xxxiii called the real part of us, the part that can experience “I am” our essence. This is the same as the soul in Plotinian literature xxxiv. Both men define essence as the part of us we are born with, and it is not a product of our upbringing or education. So in Presencing, what is present is essence, our true nature, which is independent of conditioning. Presence and essence are the same. Essence is “I am”.xxxv Essence is the imaginal world-in-action.
Biography: Josie’s present research and lifelong interests span spiritual practices from many traditions, in particular the Perennial Philosophy and mysticism. She also studies the evolution of the structures of consciousness developed by the philosopher Jean Gebser (1905 – 1973) The Ever-present Origin: The Foundations and Manifestations of the Aperspectival World. (1985) (English Series, No 1). Athens: Ohio University Press.
She holds a PhD in Humanistic Professional Education as well as professional and academic qualifications in humanistic psychology, nursing, teaching, coaching, group facilitation and psychotherapy. She is an independent academic, executive and life coach, supervisor of professional practices in the above fields and a psychotherapist.
i Wilber, K. (1996) Eye-to Eye. Th Quest for the New Paradigm. 3rd Edition. Shambhala, Boston & London.
ii Corbin, H. 1972 Mundus Imaginalis Or the Imaginary and the Imaginal. Analytical Psychology Club of New York, Inc.
iii Hadot, P. (1993) Plotinus: Or the Simplicity of Vision. The University of Chicago Press Ltd. London.
iv Gebser, J. (2018) Jean Gebser – The Invisible Origin; Evolution as a Supplementary Process. Translated by Theo Röttgers. Journal of Consciousness Evolution, May 2018.
v Gebser, J. (1985) The Ever-present Origin: The Foundations and Manifestations of the Aperspectival World Part One (English Series, No 1): Part One: Foundations of the Aperspectival World. Athens: Ohio University Press
vi Heron, J. (1992) Feeling and Personhood. London, Sage.
vii Hadot, P. (1993) Plotinus: Or the Simplicity of Vision. The University of Chicago Press Ltd. London.
viii Combs, A. (2002) The Radiance of Being. Minnesota, Paragon House.
ix Almaas, A.H. ( 2002) Spacecruiser Inquiry: True guidance for the inner journey. Boston & London, Shambhala. page 5.
x Voss, K-C Imagination In Mysticism And Esotericism: Marsilio Ficino, Ignatius de Loyola, and Alchemy. Published in Studies in Spirituality No. 6, 1996, 106-130.
xi Gebser, J. (1985) The Ever-present Origin: The Foundations and Manifestations of the Aperspectival World Part One (English Series, No 1): Part One: Foundations of the Aperspectival World. Athens: Ohio University Press
xii Hadot, P. (1993) Plotinus: Or the Simplicity of Vision. The University of Chicago Press Ltd. London.
xiii Boehme, J. (1647) The Clavis or `Key’ of Jacob Boehme or An Exposition of some Principal Matters and Words in the Writings of Jacob Boehme. Translated from the German by William Law (1991). Phanes Press, U.S.
xiv Corbin , H. ( 1972) Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal. Reprinted (1976) by Analytical Psychology Club of New York. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press (page 6)
xv Ibid. page 6
xvi Ibid., p3
xvii Ibid., p8
xviii Fawcett 1939 cited in Heron J. (1992) Feeling and Personhood. London, Sage. (page 147)
xix Corbin, H. (1972) Mundus Imaginalis or the Imaginary and the Imaginal. Reprinted (1976) by Analytical Psychology Club of New York. Ipswich, Golgonooza Press (page 6)
xx Ibid., pp 5-8
xxi Heron, J. (1992) Feeling and Personhood. London, Sage.
xxii Norbu N. (1989) cited in Welwood, J. (2000) Reflection and Presence (chapter 5:) in Hart, T. Nelson, P.L. Puhakka, K. (2000) Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the Horizon of consciousness. Albany, State University of New York Press p14
xxiii (Poonja, H.W.L (1993) Wake up and Roar. Vol 2. Maui, HI: Pacific Center Publishing. p. 33)
xxiv Welwood, J. (2000) Reflection and Presence (chapter 5:) in Hart, T. Nelson, P.L. Puhakka, K. (2000) Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the Horizon of consciousness. Albany, State University of New York Press. p86
xxv Welwood, J. (2000) Reflection and Presence (chapter 5:) in Hart, T. Nelson, P.L. Puhakka, K. (2000) p96 Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the Horizon of consciousness. Albany, State University of New York Press.
xxvi Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968) The visible and the invisible. Evanton, II Northwestern University Press.
xxvii Gebser, J. (1985) The Ever-present Origin: The Foundations and Manifestations of the Aperspectival World Part One (English Series, No 1): Part One: Foundations of the Aperspectival World. Athens: Ohio University Press
xxviii Hart, T. Nelson, P.L. Puhakka, K. (2000) Transpersonal Knowing: Exploring the Horizon of consciousness. Albany, State University of New York Press.
xxix Wolters, C. (1978) Unknown Author (14th Century) The Cloud of Unknowing and other Works. London, Penguin Classics.
xxxCheak, A. Dalla Valle, S. Zahrt, J. (Eds) (2015) Diaphany: A Journal and Nocturne. Rubedo Press Auckland.
xxxi Assagioli, R. (1975). Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings : A Manual of Principles and Techniques. Turnstone Press Ltd; 1st edition.
xxxii Coleridge cited in Heron 1992, Feeling and Personhood. London, Sage. p. 147)
xxxiii Gurdjieff, G. (2000) Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: All and Everything. Penguin; New Ed edition
xxxiv Plotinus: The Enneads. Translated: MacKenna, S. (1991: 15) Penguin Classics – Penguin Books, London
xxxv Almass, A.H. (1986) “Essence with The Elixir of Enlightenment.” Samuel Weiser, INC. Maine. Chapter 1